It’s an age-old tradition in Japan. When things fall out of line, you must resign. A company executive sent emails to employees at affiliate offices and subsidiaries late last summer directing workers to post comments supporting the restart of the reactors posing as general citizens during a live government-organized local TV program.
The company was trying to sway public opinion in hopes of persuading the governor of southern Saga Prefecture, where Genkai is located, to support the restart. The governor, Yasushi Furukawa, has become the center of national attention as he deliberates over the reactors, which were shut down for routine maintenance before the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Analysts say the scandal reflects panic in Japan’s atomic power industry, long coddled by political, corporate and regulatory interests dubbed the “nuclear village” but now facing growing anti-nuclear sentiment as workers battle to end the Fukushima crisis.
“There is growing suspicion that power companies are playing fast and loose with data to support their cause and will go so far as to orchestrate public support,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University’s Japan campus.
“The more the media pulls back the veil, the angrier the public is getting.” The e-mail scandal has been daily fodder for mainstream media, often accused of being soft on the industry.
The president of Kyushu Electric Power, Toshio Manabe, told reporters that he must take responsibility for the e-mails, which were sent by employees of subsidiaries who posed as regular citizens supporting the restart of two local reactors. The e-mails were sent on June 26 during a live televised public hearing on whether to restart the reactors at the Genkai Nuclear Power Station, and some may have been read on the air.
“Even if I continue to serve as president, it won’t be for long,” said the 66-year-old executive at company headquarters in Kyushu in July, according to the Nikkei business daily.
Jiji news agency reported that Manabe said: “I am reflecting deeply on the actions that tried to influence a hearing that should be fair and neutral.”
The mayor, Hideo Kishimoto, told reporters he felt like he was “being mocked” by the company.
Mr. Manabe, the Kyushu Electric president, said that he had no direct hand in the e-mails, but that he was responsible as head of the company. He said he would make a final decision on stepping down next week, after the company’s chairman returned from an overseas trip.
Public trust in utilities and their regulators has already been dented by patchy and slow disclosure about the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co’s Fukushima plant.
“They (Tokyo Electric) have zero credibility,” Kingston said, adding the email affair was also embarrassing for the government itself.
Industry critics said the e-mail scandal was no surprise, but added it nonetheless deepened doubts about both safety and whether threatened power outages were a real risk.
“The public reaction is leaning against nuclear power and I think the utilities feel a sense of crisis,” said Harumi Kondaiji, a local lawmaker in the western city of Tsuruga, host to three reactors. “At this point, we cannot believe them.”
Fast forward a few days, and the tune changed. The utility president, who came up to Tokyo, told reporters that there are other ways to bear responsibility for the scandal besides his resignation. Instead, staying put and helping restore the company’s trust is “one way” of taking the blame, according to Kyodo news service.
Kyushu Electric Power Co. President Toshio Manabe indicated Monday he could resign, possibly by March, as a scandal involving an e-mail campaign by the utility to manipulate public opinion regarding nuclear reactors has basically been settled.
Manabe withdrew his resignation offer at the request of Chairman Shingo Matsuo in July, after the e-mail campaign in June in which the utility solicited e-mails in favor of restarting nuclear reactors in Saga Prefecture amid the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
A third-party panel set up by Kyushu Electric has presented a report concluding that a remark by Saga Gov. Yasushi Furukawa to the company’s executives prompted the e-mail campaign.
After angering Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano by rejecting the third-party report, Kyushu Electric wrote to the industry ministry last week accepting the report.
Source: NY Times
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